“Offer Them Christ”
In 1784 John Wesley sent his friend and colleague Thomas Coke to America to help lead the fledging churches of Methodism. Coke was named as a superintendent along with Francis Asbury. Under their leadership the Christmas conference of 1784 was called and the Methodist Episcopal Church was formed. Now according to one tradition it is said that when John Wesley sent Thomas Coke off to America, he gave him only three last words of advice. He said, “Offer them Christ.” “Offer them Christ.”
In the simplest form that is what our text from Romans 10 is about.
When John Wesley was young he struggled with fulfilling the demands of righteousness within his life; until he came to know the inner reassurance of the Holy Spirit. When he was 33 years old, in 1736 he traveled to the Georgia Colony to serve as its spiritual leader. One of John Wesley’s great reasons for coming to America was so that he might convert the native population to Christianity and thus make himself fit for salvation. He felt this great act of service might make him worthy. However, his time in America was problematic. At the last he developed difficulties in his relationship with the colonist and with one girl in particular. Finally, he had to flee to escape legal accusations and the possibility of being put in jail. The charges against him were eventually dropped. What followed was his Aldersgate experience during which he felt his heart strangely warmed. Despite or more likely because of his failed efforts, what pulled life together for John Wesley was coming to Christ and finally realizing that the way to life was not out there somewhere, but it was being open and trusting God within one’s own heart. I think that is why John Wesley told Thomas Coke to offer them Christ. Of all the advice that he might have been able to give this was the most important and necessary point he could make. Knowing Christ is what brought John Wesley’s life together and answered his need for the assurance of salvation. There is no greater answer to the spiritual questions of life than this.
The Apostle Paul was not that much different. Paul grew up as a zealous persecutor of the Christian church. You should know his story too. When the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was being stoned to death as he witnessed to the truth of Christ, it is recorded that Paul stood watch over the cloaks of the people who were doing the stoning and that he approved of what was happening. Not only did he approve, but he became a significant person in the first persecution of early Christian believers. He broke into people’s houses and threw people in prison because of their beliefs. As a Pharisee, Paul trusted in the righteousness found in the law, but then he dramatically encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. You can read about Paul’s conversion experience in three different places in Acts. This encountered completely changed Paul’s outlook on life.
In Philippians 3:7-8 (NRSV) Paul wrote, “7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
Christianity is primarily not about what you do, but about who you know.
Sometimes when we read Romans 10:8, I think we see within it a particular law of self –Righteousness. “…if you confess with your lips and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” We read the text and we think well to be saved I have to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and then say that Jesus is Lord. It is like a two point check list to get into heaven. Now I do not reduce the importance of believing or confessing, but I point out that both believing and confessing are not the product or the result of a necessary compliance to a law, but they are the product and the outcome of faith –of a heart strangely warmed; of an encounter with the risen savior. The reason we become “believing and confessing” is because God has put his word upon our hearts, within our lives, and upon our lips.
Paul is saying that the word and life of God is no longer distant to us, or gained by some human action of our own, but in Christ that word and life dwells within us and upon us. Because of faith eternal life and the message of salvation is an integral part of the Christian’s life. Therefore it cannot but help to come out of us. Our life with God is to be like that of a cup that is too full, and it can’t be moved without some of what is in it spilling out upon the world. It is our experience and faith in Christ that sets the heart to believing and our lips to confessing. We are the recipients of grace, and made righteous through our faith in Christ. It is a matter of having an open heart to God like John Wesley, and being available in life like Paul. Because God is just that near to you and every person who turns to Christ will find the one that they are looking for.
God’s work comes to involve all who choose to believe. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Jew, Greek, Roman, Slave, Free, men, women, law abiders, law breakers, idolaters, priest, soldiers and politicians, all who would call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. None shall be put to shame. In the name of Jesus is the righteousness of God to be found for all people –you and me.
Our direction then is clear. As the Apostle Paul did, as John Wesley once said, so we also need to do –We are to be about the task of offering Christ to the world.
Consider Mother Teresa’s words to a reporter summing up her life’s work. She said, “I give them Jesus.”
Once, a leader of the church went to see her. He asked the secret of her compassion for the dying, dirty people of the world. She replied that it was Jesus who gave her compassion. He asked, “How does Jesus give you the power to care for the poor?” She replied, “Come with me and you can meet Jesus.” He followed her out of the chapel into a large room where there were a great number of dying persons.
She took him to an elderly man who had just been brought in from the street. The dying man was dirty and the odor from him was suffocating. She knelt down and took the dying man in her arms and said to him, “I love you.” Then she looked up at her guest and said, “I want you to meet Jesus. In a dying man I see and meet Jesus, my Savior. Did He not say, In so much as you did it unto the least of these you have done it unto me?'” (Matthew 25:40)
I think perhaps Mother Teresa’s confession of Christ came as a result of her certainty within her of Christ as the resurrected Lord. Her inward faith in Christ poured forth from her life, and touched the lives of some of the most needy.
God’s message in Christ is a part of us, within our hearts and spilling from our lips. It is buried within us –awakening anew every day we open our eyes and get out of bed. It is upon our lips to the point that we should be able to taste it with every word we speak.
Our salvation indeed is close at hand; therefore live by the Spirit God has abundantly placed within you and go forth and offer Christ to the world. Amen.